Fertilizer Plant Explosion Leaves Farmers In The Lurch

By: Paul J. Gately Email
By: Paul J. Gately Email

Records from the McLennan County Sheriff’s Office show that deputies were sent to West Fertilizer Co. in response to theft reports more than 10 times over the 11 years before the deadly explosion on April 17, Reuters reported.

The thieves appeared to want the anhydrous ammonia, which, in the right conditions, can be flammable or explosive. A leak can create a potentially fatal toxic chemical cloud.

The plant also stored ammonium nitrate, a chemical that has been used in explosives, such as the truck bomb used in the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.


WEST (May 3, 2013)--The deadly April 17 explosion at West Fertilizer Co. that killed 15, injured about 200 and damaged or destroyed scores of homes and buildings, also destroyed tons of fertilizer that area farmers were counting on to make their crops this summer.

Now producers in McLennan County and several surrounding counties have to look to other suppliers to provide the products they need to ensure both a bountiful harvest and their own livelihoods.

"There's a void there, a big void," said Norman Divin, at Crop Production Services, in Hillsboro, a national company with several outlets in Texas.

"Believe me, it’s going to be hard to fill," Divin said.

Divin said he has hired two employees who worked at the West, mainly because of the increase in business he is experiencing after the explosion.

West Fertilizer was the area's major purveyor of agricultural products such as anhydrous ammonia and dry nitrogen fertilizers.

Testimony offered Tuesday at a Texas House of Representatives hearing into the disaster indicated at the time of the deadly fire and explosion, West Fertilizer had more than 230 tons of fertilizer in storage.

Although the cause of the devastating fire and explosion on April 17 has yet to be determined, the blast destroyed several tons of fertilizer that farmers were counting on to boost their crops this spring and summer.

Divin said his company already has seen several producers who are looking for fertilizer of one type or another and he's trying to serve them.

But CPS in Hillsboro is not a "dry barn," he said.

A report filed with the state agency that tracks stores of dry fertilizer such as ammonium nitrate indicates there were 44 businesses in Texas that reported having more than 10,000 pounds of the chemical in their storage barns.

That means his company does not handle large amounts of dry nitrogen fertilizer like West Fertilizer did.

Those farmers and ranchers who are looking for dry fertilizer products will have to find other sources of those products and the farther the growers have to travel to get the products they need, the higher the cost of production.

Right now farmers and ranchers are fertilizing pastures and fields of hay, Divin said, but the need for fertilizer is a year-round need.

It begins in early January when producers boost wheat crops, then into early spring for other row crops such as corn, sorghum and cotton, plus a later need for pastures.

Depending upon the type of crop being planted and the kind of fertilizer used, application could total 200 to 300 pounds per acre.

In Hill County alone there is more than 158,000 acres planted in row crops, AgriLife Extension Agent Ryan Collett said.

The West fertilizer plant had major agricultural customers in McLennan, Hill, Navarro and Limestone counties, plus other in more far-ranging locations.

Interstate 35 is somewhat of an agricultural dividing line in that most Texas black land farming operations lie east of the highway and on the west side land ranges into more sandy types toward the Brazos River.

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